Richard Yeselson made the case yesterday that Ted Cruz is a serious contender for the 2016 nomination:
Cruz is the real deal. He is deeply grounded in his worldview, and skilled in his presentation of it. He’s the man that rightwing activists must wish had started his national political career just a few years earlier: Is there any doubt that Ted Cruz would have been a more daunting challenger for Mitt Romney than the charlatans and bozos Romney defeated for the 2012 nomination?
Yeselson makes a strong argument that Cruz would be a very competitive candidate, but he may be giving him too much credit. Cruz is very sharp, he’s an effective speaker and a powerful demagogue, and so far he hasn’t taken many positions that would put him seriously at odds with any major faction inside the party. Cruz is popular with many conservative activists, and he was able to translate conservative support from outside Texas into a successful primary bid against the state party-favored Dewhurst. It’s not hard to see how Cruz might mobilize conservative supporters around the country to support a competitive presidential bid. Having said all that, I doubt very much that Cruz would be able to win the nomination in 2016. Part of this has to do with Cruz’s liabilities, and part of it is a function of Republican nomination contests.
The same confrontational style that pleases his admirers is one of the things that will get very old very quickly in the primaries. Cruz has already shown a knack for being so hard-line that it backfires on him and undermines the cause he’s trying to promote. That might not be a problem with activists in caucus states, but I suspect it could go over very poorly with the moderate and “somewhat” conservative voters that still make up most of the party’s primary voters. Other than his time as Texas solicitor general, Cruz’s political experience is virtually nil. He would have no executive experience in a field that will likely include several governors, and even by comparison with some other would-be 2016 candidates he is a novice in the Senate. Cruz can argue the movement conservative line on just about anything, but he is not lacking in competition for the role of movement candidate. It is also rare for the GOP to nominate a candidate as conservative as Cruz, and my guess is that there will be so many other candidates splitting the conservative vote (as they usually do) that a relative moderate candidate will end up coming out on top.
If there has been a fairly reliable rule in Republican presidential politics in recent years, it is that the candidates that most energize and excite movement conservative activists and pundits tend to underperform with Republican voters. The candidates that ought to flourish because they appear to be formidable “on paper” end up flaming out or falling short, and the eventual nominees are candidates that most of the activists profess to loathe for one reason or another. There is an assumption that Republicans will not repeat this pattern in 2016, and will opt for a hard-charging, ideological candidate instead, but the desire to win the election will almost certainly stop that from happening.